I just wanted to get the day over with and go down to Smokey's for a few cold ones. Sneaking a look at my watch, I saw the time: 16:55. Five minutes to go. Full Dress was hot in the August sun. Oklahoma summertime was as bad as ever, the heat and humidity at the same level, too damned high. I saw the car pull into the drive, '69 or '70 model Deville, looked factory-new. It pulled into the parking slot at a snail's pace. An old woman got out so damned slow I thought she was paralyzed. She had a cane and a sheave of flowers, about four or five bunches as best I could tell.
I couldn't help myself. The thought came unwanted, and left a slightly bitter taste: "Shit! She's going to spend an hour, my damned hip hurts like hell and I'm ready to get the hell out of here right by-God now!."
But my duty was to assist anyone coming in. Kevin would lock the "in" gate and I could hurry the old biddy along, we might make the last half of happy hour. I broke Post Attention. The hip made gritty noises when I took the first step and the pain went up a notch. I must have made a real military sight; middle-aged man with a small potgut and half a limp, in Marine Full Dress Uniform, which had lost its razor crease about 30 minutes after I began the watch. I stopped in front of her halfway up the walk. She looked up at me with an old woman's squint.
"Ma'am, can I assist you in any way?"
She took long enough to answer. "Yes, son. Can you carry these flowers. I seem to be moving a tad slow these days."
"My pleasure Ma'am." Well, it wasn't to much of a lie.
She looked again. "Marine, where were you stationed?"
"Vietnam, Ma'am. Ground-pounder. '69 to '71."
She looked at me closer. "Wounded in action, I see. Well done, Marine. I'll be as quick as I can"
I lied a little bigger. "No hurry, Ma'am."
She smiled, and winked at me. "Son, I'm 85 years old and I can tell a lie from a long way off. Let's get this done. Might be the last time I can come. My name's Joanne Wieserman, and I've a few Marines I'd like to see one more time."
"Yes, Ma'am. At your service"
She headed for the World War I section, stopping at a stone. She picked one of the bunches out of my arm and laid it on top of the stone. She murmured something I couldn't quite make out. The name on the marble was Donald S. Davidson, USMC, France 1918. She turned away and made a straight line for the World War II section, stopping at one stone. I saw a tear slowly tracking its way down her cheek. She put a bunch on a stone; the name was Stephen X. Davidson, USMC, 1943. She went up the row a ways and laid another bunch on a stone, Stanley J. Wieserman USMC, 1944.
She paused for a second, "Two more, son, and we'll be done."
I almost didn't say anything, but, "Yes, Ma'am. Take your time."
She looked confused. "Where's the Vietnam section, son? I seem to have lost my way."
I pointed with my chin. "That way, Ma'am."
"Oh!" she chuckled quietly. "Son, me and old age ain't too friendly."
She headed down the walk I'd pointed at. She stopped at a couple of stones before she found the ones she wanted. She place a bunch on Larry Wieserman USMC, 1968, and the last on Darrel Wieserman USMC, 1970. She stood there and murmured a few words I still couldn't make out.
"OK, son, I'm finished. Get me back to my car and you can go home."
"Yes, Ma'am. If I may ask, were those your kinfolk?"
She paused. "Yes, Donald Davidson was my father; Stephan was my uncle; Stanley was my husband; Larry and Darrel were our sons. All killed in action, all Marines."
She stopped, whether she had finished or couldn't finish I don't know. And never have.
She made her way to her car, slowly, and painfully. I waited for a polite distance to come between us and double-timed it over to Kevin waiting by the car. "Get to the out-gate quick, Kev. I have something I've got to do."
Kev started to say something but saw the look I gave him. He broke the rules to get us there down the service road. We beat her, she hadn't made it around the rotunda yet. "Kev, stand to attention next to the gate post. Follow my lead." I humped it across the drive to the other post.
When the Cadillac came putting out of the hedges and began the short straight to the gate I called in my best gunny's voice: "Tehen Hut! Present Haaaarms!" I have to hand it to Kev, he never blinked an eye; full dress attention and a salute that would make his TI proud. She drove through that gate with two old worn-out soldiers giving her a send off she deserved, for service rendered to her country, and for knowing Duty, Honor and Sacrifice. I am not sure, but I think I saw a salute returned from that Cadillac.
We must remember all of those who sacrificed to make us a free country. Something that is easily forgotten, the wives, girlfriends, sisters, mothers.